Big Island community helping police officer’s family after fire damages home, kills 3 pets
January 3, 2023, 5:30 AM HST
* Updated January 3, 10:22 AM
Malia Kamauoha Walker has known Hawai‘i Police Department Officer Erhard Autrata and his family for 15 years. Her husband, Dwight, is also a Big Island police officer.
“The Autratas are family by blue blood,” Walker said. “We are connected through our law enforcement bond.”
The Autratas’ home in ʻĀinaloa went up in flames during a fire in the early evening of Dec. 30. Fortunately, no one was home at the time, but the blaze caused $250,000 in damage and killed three of the family’s five dogs. The family was out for dinner, celebrating the youngest daughter’s 10th birthday, when they received the devastating news.
When Walker learned about the blaze, she instantly jumped into action. She wasn’t the only one, either. Support for the Autrata family has poured in from the community.
Walker put out her plea in the Buy Nothing Big Island Facebook group, asking the community to help the Autrata family in their time of need. She asked if anyone could spare basic necessities such as toiletries and hygiene items and clothes for the Autratas’ four daughters. All of the youngest daughter’s birthday gifts were also lost to the fire, so Walker said it would be wonderful if anyone wanted to get the girl a birthday gift.
Of course, prayers are always welcome, too.
“My ‘ohana and a couple other law enforcement ‘ohana have taken it upon ourselves to ease the burden on the family by helping gather things, as it is incredibly overwhelming for them,” Walker said.
Since making her post, people have offered or donated girl’s, women’s and men’s clothing, bedding, towels and blankets, women’s shoes, toothpaste and even a couch, among other items. One woman even offered to gift the Autratas’ 10-year-old a birthday cake.
Mel Vargas, who also is an officer with the Hawai‘i Police Department, said in a post in the the Hawai‘i Tracker Facebook group that the Autrata family lost almost everything in the fire — what wasn’t taken by the flames was damaged by the water used to extinguish them.
“Erhard Autrata is a husband, grandfather and father of 4 beautiful girls,” Vargas said in his post. “He is an outstanding veteran officer who does not shy from serving his community. Let’s take a moment to return the aloha during the Holiday season and give back.”
Fellow police officer Isabelle Feki posted in another Facebook group, asking the community to lend its support to the Autratas. Her post included an image that had Erhard Autrata’s Venmo handle included.
“My brother in blue lost his home and 3 fur babies in a fire tonight,” Feki said in her post. “I am going to leave his Venmo info right here and if you find it in [your] heart to show some aloha, I know that they would greatly appreciate you. I will greatly appreciate you, too!”
Just like with Walker’s plea, those from Feki and Vargas were met with kind words of support for the Autrata family and questions about how to help.
Puna Patrol officers started a GoFundMe fundraiser for the Autrata family as well.
“We are doing this because the Autrata ‘ohana are a loving, wonderful group of people and they are in need of help,” said Officer Adam Hanes. “If you only met these folks one time, you would walk away glad that they are in your life; simply wonderful and loving people who try to brighten the world in their own way.”
As of early Monday afternoon, more than $19,000 had been donated to support the ‘ohana. The goal is to raise $50,000 or more that can be used by the Autratas to recover from the fire.
Walker and the other families collecting items for the Autratas are picking up donations when they can. Those who want to help also can drop donated Items off with Officer Ben Del Toro at the Pāhoa police station and at Mahina Energy, located in Suite 202 at 56 Waiānuenue Ave. in Hilo.
Walker said there remains a need for daily living items such as toilet paper, sanitary wipes, soap, detergent, shampoo, Q-Tips and phone chargers, just to name a few. Donations of other items also are still being accepted and will be stored until the Autratas need them.
Anyone who wants to donate to help the family can call Walker at 808-640-5088 or Chassidy Del Toro at 808-782-5758 for more information.
Those who want help the Autrata family by donating to the Go Fund Me fundraiser can click here.
“A house fire is absolutely devastating, especially when there are children involved, and they also lost some of their beloved animals,” Hanes said. “They lost so much, and the least we can do as brother and sister officers, and members of this community, is to help them get back on their feet and back to a blessed, happy life as soon as possible.”
The investigation into the fire is ongoing.